If anything, Monday’s media day at the Zions Bank Basketball Center was quieter than the last few years. Why? Simply put: Al Jefferson wasn’t around to give everyone a hard time.
Best way to describe the Jazz’s departed leading scorer, who signed an offseason contract with the Charlotte Bobcats? Gone but not forgotten.
Jefferson’s departure opened up the frontcourt to blossoming big men Derrick Favors and, even more so, Enes Kanter. Both talked about what they learned from two-plus years under the skillful big man, who for the last three seasons started alongside power forward Paul Millsap.
"Al and Paul were great players," Favors said, "obviously great scorers. So, obviously [we will try to] do what they used to do, but I think me and Enes can fill their role."
And how about when Kanter and Favors match up with their former mentors? The Jazz are in Charlotte on Dec. 21, one night after they play Millsap’s Atlanta Hawks. Kanter had one story from the offseason especially relevant to his matchup with Jefferson, who christened Kanter with his nickname, "Big Turk."
Kanter, who has a gift for telling stories even in his second language, was at the Peak Performance Project (P3) in Santa Barbara, Calif., where the Jazz train in the offseason. There with members of the Jazz coaching staff to train and continue his rehab from shoulder surgery, Kanter spotted a familiar face.
"I look over there and was like, Al is there," he remembered. "It was me, Al, Coach Corbin. He was telling Coach Corbin, game of the year. Match-up of the year. He says, ‘Don’t bring any double-team coach, we’re going to play one-on-one.’" Kanter, who turned 21 in May and has vowed he will maintain a lower off-the-court profile going forward, apparently maintained his knack for antagonizing Jefferson.
"I told him, ‘I’m going to dunk on you, I’m going to block you,’" Kanter said.
Of course, it was all in jest.
He’s a really good guy, he texted me the day he signed with Charlotte. He said, ‘I tried to help you, now it’s on you. I know you’re going to do really well.’ He’s just a real good guy."
General manager Dennis Lindsey says the Jazz’s No. 1 priority heading into the season is improving their defense.
Utah allowed 98.1 points a game last season. Opponents shot 45.8 percent from the field. By comparison, the NBA champion Miami Heat allowed 90.7 points and 43.6 percent shooting.
"Real simply," Lindsey said, "we want to develop a defensive foundation. I don’t think anything great is accomplished in this league unless you can get stops. ... The No. 1 goal is to build a championship-caliber defense."
Coach Tyrone Corbin and 19 players will start training camp with two practices on Tuesday. They will also practice twice on Wednesday, once on Thursday and twice on Friday.
The Jazz will hold an open scrimmage at 4 p.m. on Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.
"It’s exciting to have this group of guys ready to go into battle," Corbin said. "... Seeing how it all comes together, it’s just exciting."
Corbin’s goal for the rebuilt Jazz this season: "... To compete every night we step on the floor."
Asked if it’s difficult working with so many players at the same time -- the Jazz will likely carry 13 or 14 during the regular season -- Corbin shook his head.
"Everybody that’s in this camp is here for a reason," he said. "They are going to help us, from where we are right now. There will be a lot of focus on the young guys, but everybody on the roster has a chance to get some time on the floor."
Generally speaking, Jazz president Randy Rigby reported ticket sales for the coming season are "good" and corporate sponsorships are "great." He was not more specific.
According to Rigby, $15 million worth of offseason renovations have helped transform 22-year-old EnergySolutions Arena into one of the best venues in the country for fans to "... consume NBA basketball."
— Bill Oram and Steve Luhm
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